For the primary hour, they simply talked. He was nervous; he’d by no means carried out this earlier than. She was understanding, reassuring: let’s simply lie down on the mattress collectively, she mentioned, and see what occurs. Quickly, occasions took their course: they have been having fun with themselves a lot they might virtually neglect concerning the wires main out of his cranium.

The yr was 1970, and the person was a 24-year-old psychiatric affected person. The lady, 21, was a prostitute from the French Quarter of New Orleans, employed by particular permission of the legal professional basic of Louisiana. They usually had simply grow to be a part of one of many strangest experiments in scientific historical past: an try to make use of pleasure conditioning to show a homosexual man straight.

The affected person – codenamed B-19 – was, in line with the 2 tutorial papers that catalogued the course of the analysis, a “single, white male of unremarkable gestation and beginning”. He got here from a navy household and had had an sad childhood. He had, the papers mentioned, entered the navy however had been expelled for “gay tendencies” inside a month. He had a five-year historical past of homosexuality, and a three-year historical past of drug abuse: he had tried glues, paints, thinners, sedatives, marijuana, LSD, amphetamines, even nutmeg and vanilla extract. He had temporal lobe epilepsy. He was depressive, suicidal, insecure, procrastinating, self-pitying and narcissistic. “All of his relationships,” wrote his docs, with an unsparing lack of sympathy, “have been characterised by coercion, manipulation and demand.”
One of many strangest experiments in scientific historical past: an try to make use of pleasure conditioning to show a homosexual man straight.

In 1970, B-19 ended up within the care of Robert Galbraith Heath, chair of the division of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane College, New Orleans. Heath’s prescription was drastic. He and his staff implanted chrome steel, Teflon-coated electrodes into 9 separate areas of B-19’s mind, with wires main again out of his cranium. As soon as he had recovered from the operation, a management field was connected which enabled him, beneath his docs’ supervision, to supply a one-second jolt to the mind space of his selection.

Earlier than being given management of the electrodes, B-19 had been proven a movie “displaying heterosexual foreplay and intercourse”. He reacted with anger and revulsion. However then the stimulation classes began, delivered by way of the button that felt most delightful to him. Over the following few days, he discovered that it may arouse him, and he would press the button to stimulate himself “to a degree that, each behaviorally and introspectively, he was experiencing an virtually overwhelming euphoria and elation and needed to be disconnected, regardless of his vigorous protests”. He would hit the button as much as 1,500 occasions over a three-hour session. “He protested every time the unit was taken from him,” mentioned one of many papers, “pleading to self-stimulate just some extra occasions.”

Ten days into his remedy, the docs recommended that B-19 watch the porn movie once more. “He agreed with out reluctance… and through its displaying grew to become sexually aroused, had an erection, and masturbated to orgasm.” He began speaking about eager to have intercourse with girls – and so Heath received permission to rent what he later known as a “girl of the night”. “We paid her $50,” he mentioned. “I instructed her it is likely to be somewhat bizarre, however the room could be utterly blacked out with curtains.”

She actually did her job, guiding B-19 via the method and inspiring him to steadily construct up his confidence. “Because the second hour started, she relates that his angle took an much more constructive shift to which she reacted by eradicating her bra and panties and mendacity down subsequent to him. Then, in a affected person and supportive method, she inspired him to spend a while in a guide exploration and examination of her physique.” Regardless of his preliminary shyness, he ended up having such an excellent time that – a lot to his docs’ delight – he typically paused earlier than the second of orgasm, to be able to lengthen his pleasure.

B-19 options in two 1972 papers: ‘Septal stimulation for the initiation of heterosexual habits in a gay male’, by Heath and his colleague Charles E Moan, and ‘Pleasure and mind exercise in man’, by Heath alone, which set out – apparently for the primary time – what occurs to human brainwaves throughout orgasm. The papers are extraordinary: without delay tutorial and pornographic, clinically indifferent and queasily prurient. They usually immediate all types of questions. Who was this Dr Heath? How on earth did he come to hold out this experiment – and get permission for it? And did it actually, you recognize, work?

In the middle of making an attempt to unravel these questions, I learn Heath’s papers, interviewed his former colleagues, and travelled to New Orleans to see the place he labored and to look at the movies by which he reminisced about his profession. And what I discovered was one thing extra outstanding than I may have imagined – the story of the person accountable for a number of the strangest, boldest and most controversial experiments of the twentieth century, but who has been virtually fully written out of scientific historical past.

The very first thing it’s important to perceive about Bob Heath is his charisma. For those who have been casting a film and in search of somebody to play the scientist-hero, he could be the primary and final title in your record. In each profile, each interview, the subject of his presence got here up: he was Gary Cooper or Cary Grant or Gregory Peck in a crisp white lab coat. “He regarded like a god – and carried himself like one,” says his former colleague Marilyn Skinner.

The second factor is that he was proficient – maybe too proficient. He was board-certified in each psychiatry and neurology. He was a professional psychoanalyst. He may deal with a affected person, diagnose a psychological sickness, learn an EEG and sprint off a paper, all earlier than heading off to the nation membership for a spherical of golf.

The third factor is that the one real love of his life wasn’t a lady, however an space of the mind. Think about a line that goes via one ear and out the opposite. Now take one other line that runs lifeless centre from the highest of your cranium and down via your tongue. The place the 2 meet is what Heath labelled the septal space, though scientists in the present day would most likely name it the nucleus accumbens. For Heath, it was the seat of enjoyment and feelings that he thought would enable him to unlock the human mind.

Born in 1915 in Pittsburgh, Heath educated as a neurologist, earlier than being drafted into service as a navy psychiatrist in World Battle II. He quickly aligned himself with the brand new breed of organic psychiatrists – scientists who argued that what have been historically considered illnesses of the thoughts have been typically truly illnesses of the mind and will subsequently be cured via surgical procedure, not remedy.

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